Thursday, February 19, 2015

Silere Alpine Origin Lamb from New Zealand.....The Lord of The Lambs!!!

   Lamb. What's in a name? Quite a lot actually as I found out just last weekend when the kind people at Marx foods offered me a chance to sample something I'd never heard of before. Silere Alpine Origin Merino Lamb. To be honest, I've never made a study of lamb. I know about chicken, beef, fish certainly, and lots and lots about various vegetables. But lamb is just lamb, right? The only thing I knew about Merino lamb was that I have a drawer full of Merino wool sweaters. As it turns out I was wrong. There's a lot to learn about lamb and I was about to get an education.
   I don't eat a great deal of meat, in fact most of the last year I've been on a vegetarian if not vegan diet. Recently however, I've decided to incorporate a bit of meat into my eating, and on occasion, also add some dairy. I've been careful to use grass-fed, naturally-raised meats and only pastured dairy products. Luckily, living here in the heart of California Wine Country, that's not been hard to come by. We're surrounded by ranches and farms. However as it turns out, some of the best lamb in the world doesn't come from here or any where near here. It comes from Middle Earth.

   Actually I'm talking about New Zealand, home of Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings and some of the damnedest fine lamb anyone could possibly enjoy. As a screenwriter I'm used to thinking of New Zealand like this:

As a chef I've now learned to think of it like this:

Viggo, delicious:

Silere Alpine Origin Merino Lamb, also delicious but in a different way.

Yes, they're ready for their close-up.

   You can't get more natural than Alpine grazed meat, and the Merino lamb I found to have a much lighter flavor, not fatty or gamy. Most of the time In cooking lamb, the meat overpowers almost everything which is why people pair it with strong flavors such a mint. The Silere lamb I cooked was leaner, delicate, and the flavors blended perfectly with the Indian spices I used. I decided that we should share this lamb with friends and who better than the people who make CocoaPlanet chocolate. I knew Anne and Jeff would be great lamb judges as they both have excellent palates. It was the prefect excuse for a dinner party, not that I need much encouragement. I'm always ready to cook!

  Cooking the Silere lamb was the easy part, as one does not want to do too much so that the meat stays tender and juicy. I could then devote some thought to a proper sauce which turned out to be a Sikandari Raan, a delicately flavored traditional sauce with a North Indian / Afghan influence. The sauce is very easy to make and can definitely be made ahead. Since the lamb cooks up quickly this is a great time saver. The perfect company dinner.

Silere Alpine Grazed Merino Lamb In Sikandari Sauce

Here's What You Need:
4 Silere Alpine Grazed Merino Lamb Loins
1 and 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili
4 tbs coconut oil, or other vegetable oil

 3 cloves
4 green cardamom pods
3 black cardamom pods
A 2 inch stick of cinnamon
2 star anise
1 bay leaf
4 medium onions thinly sliced
2 tsp ground coridaner
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 cup of yogurt

Here's What To Do:
Put on your onion goggles and start slicing the onions... this:

Set them aside.

In a kadhai or skillet heat 4 Tbs of coconut or vegetable oil.

When the oil is hot, toss in the star anise, green and black cardamom pods, the bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon stick.

Saute the spices for one minute. They'll start to puff up a bit, then toss in your sliced onions.

Cook the onions until they're translucent and soft, then add in the Kashmiri Chili powder.

Add in the ground coriander, cumin, and turmeric and tomato paste.

Saute everything until the oil starts to separate from the sauce. Add in the salt.

When everything is well mixed, remove the bay leaf and put everything else into a blender or food processor.

Grind it up really well you want to avoid any hard pieces of spice left over. You can pour it through a strainer or cheese cloth to prevent this.
Set your sauce aside. If you are going to use it later or the next day, keep it covered in the fridge.
Before you cook your lamb make sure to bring it to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees
I found that the best way to cook this lamb was to sear it in hot hot hot cast iron and then finish it in the oven. One wants the internal temperature to be about 125 degrees for medium rare lamb.
Salt and pepper the lamb loins on both sides.
Place an empty, heavy, cast iron pan on the fire and heat that baby up.
When it's hot, hot, hot, lay the lamb loins in it fat side down. Cook them for about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, as you see in the background, I'm heating the sauce on simmer. When it warms up, add in the yogurt, 1/4 cup at a time. The idea here is to make surer the sauce is smooth creamy and not overpoweringly hot. It depends no how much chili you or your guests like. The yogurt tames things down to whatever level one desires.
After about 4 minutes, turn the loins over and cook them on the other side for another four minutes.
After that take the whole pan and put it into the oven for another 10 minutes or so to finish.

Use a meat thermometer. When the lamb is 125 degrees inside, it's done medium rare unless you like it more well done, in which case, back into the oven for another few minutes.
After you take the meat out of the oven let it rest for about 10 minutes.
Slice the meat into medallions.

Brush a layer of the sikandari sauce across one side of the plate, and lay the medallions on it.

Adjust them.

Drizzle a bit of the sauce across the top of the meat and serve it up.

I served this dish with Basmati rice with whole spices, Indian spinach and corn.

   I served a salad of spiced chickpeas with mango and grapes as a starter. It was amazing. The  spices in the sauce accented the lamb, but did not overpower it, and vice versa. The meat was succulent, juicy, and tender. I am now totally hooked on this amazing grass fed lamb which is so easily prepared. In fact it takes such a little bit of cooking to be perfect, it's hard to mess up. I'm two steps away from wanting to move to New Zealand.

   This is the lamb, that a Hobbit would enjoy and you know how much they love to eat!!!

I'd love to share more lamb recipes with you if you'll just click on the link and give me your vote for my recipe in the   Marx Food Silere Lamb Contest   I'd really appreciate it!
   I'd like to thank the Becca Lee and all great folks at Marx Foods and Silere Alpine Origin Lamb for allowing me this amazing tasting experience, thanks for spoiling me. Coming up next, great sides to serve with great lamb follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spicy, Sexy, Vegan Chocolate Mousse. Who Says Valentines Has To Be Only One Day??

   I was hoping to get this up and posted before Valentines Day as that seems to be the day when Chocolate in all shapes forms and hues rules. But who the hell am I kidding? A day without chocolate if one is a chocolate freak is a day of misery, and now that we all know how good deep dark chocolate is for you, there is no need for shame, or hiding.

    "Hey, back off I'm just taking care of my heart health here..."

   Since I've been wearing a -32 c degree device on my head once a week for 5 and 1/2 hours  I found myself looking for something warm and tasty to sip while chilling. I asked around for some suggestions, preferably something chocolate, and my friend Janis Handiman Tester of  Bite Me New England came to the rescue. Janis sent me a formula for Mexican Hot Chocolate, that smelled so good when put together that I couldn't just drink it. Alan and I had our friend Mr. X take a sniff and he said, that's got to be a mousse!!! And so it was.  First of all here's the basic formula and then what I did to turn it into a vegan mousse.

Janis' Mexican Hot Chocolate

1/2 C Sugar
2 Tbl whole almonds
1 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 C Dutch-process Cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Makes 1 Cup mix (enough for 16 servings)
Combine the sugar and almonds in food processor and process until the almonds are finely ground.  Add chocolate, cocoa, vanilla cinnamon, and cloves and process again until mixtures is finely ground.  Store in an airtight container.
To make 1 cup hot chocolate:
Heat 1 cup milk with 1 Tablespoon mix and whisk until frothy.
And now for something not quite completely different....

Vegan Mexican Chocolate Mousse

Here's What You Need:
3 Tbs of hot chocolate mix
1 can of full fat coconut milk
6 oz semi or bittersweet dark chocolate
3 Tbs pistachios
Here's What To Do:
Chop the chocolate  into chunks.

Set them aside.

Heat up one can of coconut milk.

When the coconut milk is warm (not boiling!!) add in the chunked chocolate.

Melt the chocolate into the warm coconut milk. Stir it and make sure it's well blended.
Add in 3 Tbs of the cocoa mix.

Blend that into the warm chocolate mixture.

Take the pot off the heat and let it cool a bit, then pour it into individual serving dishes.

Put them into the fridge to chill for about 3 hours.
When you're ready to enjoy, chop up 3 Tbs of pistachios and sprinkle a bit ob top of each mousse.

You can serve it as is, or chill a can of coconut milk overnight, scrape off the thick cream  that rises to the top and whip it as you would cream.

Of course we had to take a sample over to Alan's pal and co-taster Needleman at Salsa Trading.

It was a hit, and Bruce couldn't believe it wasn't dairy!!

   So there it is, Janis' cocoa in a different form.  Coming up next, we go to Alpine Grass Fed-Heights. Follow along on Twitter at @kathygori

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Payasam, The Sweet South Indian Dessert. And It's Gluten Free.

   I've been having a lot of fun lately exploring some of the new products that Whole Foods sent my way. It seems that every year there are new trends in foods just the same as there are in hair, clothes, and make up. Smoking, fermenting, gluten free, and a host of other stuff I haven't yet gotten around to are the things that are looming for 2015. At least, that's what I hear.

I've smoked vegetables in hay...

...and served them with a seaweed pesto.

I've pickled and fermented...

...and yet, every year there are still more frontiers to be crossed.

   Every year I intend to get to the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, and somehow something always seems to interfere. Two years ago it was a storm that made travel difficult, last year I had the flu, and this year the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to re-do the middle barrier the very weekend I'd planned on going. So once again I missed a bunch of the fun. But when I got the offer to try some new goodies from Whole Foods Market it was like my own little mini fancy food show.

   I have to say, that I have a lot of weird stuff  (by conventional standards) in my pantry normally. It's a habit I got into when I was a kid growing up in San Francisco in a working class household where money was super tight. Food was not something one helped oneself to without permission. Hearing Alan's stories about just getting anything he wanted out of the fridge at any time he wanted blew my mind. I did not grow up in Westport Connecticut and anything in the pantry that had a piece or slice missing was going to be the subject of a lot of rigorous questioning. Think Bengazhi, only about peanut butter.

   So I devised a way of getting around the problem. I took my pocket money from neighborhood jobs like sweeping up the hair in the local beauty salon and baby sitting and took myself all over San Francisco where I would shop at any ethnic neighborhood market. I cultivated a taste for stuff that the rest of the family wasn't interested in. Stuff that was tasty and inexpensive. Stuff that I could stash in the pantry and be assured it  would not be touched by anyone but me. I cultivated  tastes that went beyond peanut butter and jelly, and once I started cooking, the world opened up. Sometimes things are exotic, but sometimes even the simplest things make a big difference, which brings me to Payasam.

   Payasam is a fabulous South Asian dessert that goes by many names. Kheer, Payesh, Khir, Payasa. It's enjoyed all over the sub-continent by every ethnic and religious group. It's a versatile dish, as it can be made with dairy, or vegan, with coconut milk, sweet with sugar or jaggery, and filled with nuts, raisins, dried fruit, saffron, semolina, vermicelli, dal or rice, nobody doesn't like Payasam. A lot of Westerners know it as a thick and delicious Indian rice pudding. I've made a lot of kheer/payasam of various types.

With dal...

With coconut milk...

With shredded bottle gourd...

With fruit and rice...

All of them were delicious. But one thing I never equated with payasam was quick and easy. In fact my kheer recipe is in Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking. It's based on a Northern Italian Budino and it takes a while to say the least. So, when it comes to payasam, fast and easy makes for a great dessert. Since even though no one at our house is gluten intolerant a great many friends are, which was why I was so happy to get a carton of Maninis Gluten Free Pasta.

This made for a perfect South Indian style Vermicelli Payasam that was also Gluten Free!

South Indian Vermicelli Payasam

Here's What You Need:
1 cup of Maninis fresh gluten free spaghetti
2 and 1/2 cups of milk
3 Tbs of sugar
1 Tbs sweetened condensed milk
1 pinch of ground cardamom
2 Tbs of cashew pieces
1 pinch of saffron
2 Tbs chopped fresh pistachios
1 tsp ghee, unsalted  butter or coconut oil

Here's What To Do:
Melt 1 tsp ghee butter in a small saucepan.

Add in the cashew pieces and toast them gently.

When they're nice and golden set them aside.
Pour 2 and 1/2 cups of milk into a pot or pan.

Add in 3 Tbs of sugar and stir it together well.

Bring the milk and sugar mixture to a boil.

Add in 1 cup of pasta.

Stir everything around and let the pasta cook. Fresh pasta takes only a few minutes. You want your pasta soft but not falling apart mushy.  
When the pasta has softened add in 1 Tbs sweetened condensed milk...

...and 1 pinch of ground cardamom.

Stir things up until the mixture starts to  thicken a bit and then add the  cashews.

Take the pan off the heat and let it cool a bit.
The payasam will thicken in the fridge as it sits for a few hours.
Ladle it into serving dishes or bowls.
Sprinkle the top with a bit of crumbled saffron and finely chopped pistachio and serve it up!

   I love this dessert, it's sweet but not too sweet and the milk and spices gives it a lovely, fragrant flavor. As for the pasta, if you've never had a vermicelli pudding before, try it, you'll like it. Also unlike a lot of payasams, this makes up very quickly and is ready to eat after just a couple of hours in the fridge.This recipe makes 4 or 5 generous servings. Coming up next, I seem to be on a dessert kick and I'm on the fast track to a vegan chocolate mousse. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


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